Charlie Manuel is doing his best to channel his inner Joe Girardi. The Phillies’ heralded manager may have cost his team the game last night keeping Pedro in to start the 7th. The decision was puzzling considering the pitcher’s age (38), pitch count after the 6th (99), and the fact that the Yankees had started to put together some solid at-bats after looking fairly stymied in the early going, highlighted by Mark Teixeira’s and Hideki Matsui’s solo home runs.
Of course, Pedro’s final stat line of three earned runs through 6-plus innings doesn’t tell the entire story. The tenor of the game may have have been different if Manuel had pulled Martinez after the 6th. Instead of facing Mariano Rivera with a 2-run lead, the Phillies might have only trailed by a run, and suddenly the three base runners Rivera allowed would have silenced the stadium. Instead, Manuel kept his pitcher in too long, and Pedro rewarded him by failing to get a single batter out and coughing up another run via Chan Ho Park. Red Sox fans know all too well that Pedro loses steam after 100 pitches. Manuel undoubtedly knows this too, but apparently decided to ignore it.
In the process, Manuel may have also made Girardi look smarter than he is, and I’m not sure how I feel about that (I don’t want to encourage the micro-manager). Prior to the game, Girardi made the questionable decision to keep the slumping Nick Swisher out of the lineup and use the ineffective Jerry Hairston (career OPS+: 85!).
Through the first six innings Hairston looked lost at the plate. He struck out twice, preferring to argue with the umpire rather than adjusting his approach in the face of an expanded strike zone. In the 7th inning, however, Hairston knocked a single against Pedro, making Girardi look prescient. Ever the tinkerer, clueless-Joe pinch ran for Hairston with Brett Gardner, who should have started the game to begin with.
The Angels threw Gardner out twice after he came in as a pinch runner in the ALCS. Last night he scored the third run, which was an important insurance run. It’s doubtful any of this happens if Manuel went to his bullpen earlier.
While Manuel’s choices in Game 2 were wrong, they may have been somewhat defensible. This one isn’t. If I were in a position to sabotage the Phillies in the World Series I would advise them to bat a leadoff hitter with a .296 OBP and to start Joe Blanton in Game 4.
Blanton’s numbers against the Yankees are terrible. His career ERA against the Yankees is over 8 and both Tex and A-Rod have hit him hard. This smells like Joe Saunders all over again. Numbers aren’t the only reason this is the wrong move. It also increases the Yankees’ options. The right move is to start Cliff Lee against CC Sabathia in Game 4. That matchup favors the Phillies, and forces the Yankees to make tough decisions with their rotation the rest of the Series.
Now, starting CC on short rest against Blanton is a gimmie. CC no longer has to be brilliant. He only needs to be better than Blanton. (By the way, is there a less intimidating name in sports than Joe Blanton? I didn’t think so either.)
The move also takes pressure off Andy Pettitte. I’ve been arguing to anyone who will listen that Pettitte versus Cole Hamels in Game 3 is the Yankees’ best chance to take a game in Philadelphia. Now, Game 4 looms large as a 2nd opportunity to win one on the road. The Phillies won’t have a pitching advantage until Game 5, when Lee pitches again.
Pitching Blanton also allows Girardi to consider using Chad Gaudin and sacrificing Game 5 against Cliff Lee. Assuming the Yankees were to win the next two games, which is a real possibility considering the pitching matchups, starting Gaudin would give A.J. Burnett and Pettitte normal rest if the Series comes home to the Bronx. If A.J. can’t put the Phillies away in Game 6, we’d see Sabathia starting Game 7 on short rest, with a fully rested Pettitte available in relief if things get out of hand.
None of this is possible if Lee pitches Game 4. It’s a dumb decision that gives the advantage to the Yankees for the next two games. Joe Girardi has his faults as a manager, but right now he looks smart next to Charlie Manuel.
(On a final note: Is there a more annoying player in this series than Jimmy Rollins? He made an error in Game 1 that cost Lee the shutout and has done nothing offensively. Despite this, he will NOT SHUT UP. Should career 97 OPS+ guys be superstars? I say no.)